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Divisions in the Catholic Church in America

 Divisions in the Catholic Church              Gerry OShea

The Catholic Church in the United States is in the throes of a major crisis. About 900,000 members leave the church every year. This accumulated leakage has led to no less than 13% of the American population identifying themselves as former Catholics.

No doubt, the sexual abuse crisis where clergymen took advantage of their power by engaging in sexual behavior with young boys and girls is the principal reason for the exodus of so many Catholics from the family religion that they grew up with. The abuse by trusted religious adults did untold harm, but even worse, was the widespread cover-up by prelates stretching all the way to the papal chair.

This crisis is ongoing as witnessed in the recent Vatican report on the egregious behavior of Theodore McCarrick, who was finally defrocked by Francis, the suspension of Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, who is accused by two former parishioners of sexual attacks, and Fr. George Rutler, a parish pastor in Manhattan and scion of right-wing media, accused of predatory behavior by a scared employee.

The American church is divided between a progressive wing, identified with supporting Pope Francis’ leadership, and a strong traditionalist rump of conservatives who bemoan and undermine the actions of the current Vatican leadership.

 In the November presidential election Catholic voters split down the middle between President Trump, an amoral leader who boasted that he did more to promote major points of the church agenda than any previous occupant of the White House, and former vice-president Joe Biden, a churchgoing Catholic who ascribes his commitment to improving the lives of the poor and middle class to his early grounding in the social teaching of his church.

Basic differences in culture and Ideology play a major role in the deep and sometimes bitter divisions in the church.

In October 2019 as part of the Amazon Synod many participants, including Pope Francis, gathered for prayers in the Vatican Library. On display were several small figurines of a naked, pregnant, indigenous woman identified with Pachamama, a goddess honored as Mother Earth by the local people in the Andes and Amazon regions.

The reaction to this display among traditional Catholics was mostly hostile with the finger of blame pointed at Francis for participating in what they dubbed an idolatrous ceremony seemingly affirming a place for “pagan worship.” German Cardinal Walter Brandmuller reached deep to verses seen as end-time biblical projections to describe the statuettes as “the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.”

On the other hand, progressives saw the images of fertility and nakedness as particularly poignant and respectful of local customs and beliefs.

The word Pachamama continues as a symbol of division between the two modes of thinking about indigenous lifestyles in the Church. Pope Francis lauded the “the presence of native people in the prayer services” which, he concluded was “twisted by hysterical accusations of paganism.”

At the end of his visit to Ireland in the summer of 2018, Archbishop Carla Maria Vigano, a former papal nuncio in Washington, released a statement accusing the pope of disregarding condemnatory information which he provided about Theodore McCarrick’s malfeasance and calling on him to resign from the papacy. Since then he has accused the man he calls Bergoglio - never Pope Francis – of heading up “an anti-church of heretics, corrupt men and fornication.”

After the McCarrick accusation, nearly all the European bishops rallied quickly to Francis’ side. A few weeks elapsed before the American prelates expressed solidarity with their leader in Rome and, indeed, a few dozen declared that they found Vigano’s accusations credible.

The former nuncio wrote approvingly to President Trump prior to the recent presidential election. His words assailed their mutual enemies, diabolical proponents of one-world government led by Francis and the United Nations. He also assured Mr. Trump that he sympathized with his negative feelings towards the all-powerful deep state because he himself has to deal with similarly hostile deep church forces. He summed up his position in a EWTN interview: “Bergoglio is to deep church what Biden is to deep state.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former head of the Archdiocese of St Louis, is the senior church leader who makes no bones about his disillusionment with Francis’ leadership. In fact, he has refused to rule out that the pope is a schismatic.

One of Burke’s pet peeves concerns the use of female altar servers at mass. He feels that boys learn a healthy respect for their manliness assisting the priest on the altar. He contends that this lessening of suitable role models, the feminization of the liturgy, explains the big drop-off in vocations.

Burke stresses that women have an important part in the church, but not near the altar where manliness has to prevail, except for taking care of the flower arrangements.

Paranoia is central to the right-wing culture that sees enemies around every corner. Recently, Raymond Burke gave his approval to the far-out idea that governments might implant controlling microchips under vaccine recipients’ skin, so that in his tantalizing words the government can control individual citizens’ behavior. This idea gives some credence to wild theories about government exercising dominance over the thinking and decisions of its people.

Former EWTN president, Dan Burke, writing in Crisis magazine, went so far as to say that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t just advocate for a crude form of Marxism but also promotes witchcraft requiring participants to get an exorcism.

George Soros and Bill Gates are the two main guilty parties in this conspiracy world that extends beyond North America and includes most European countries. The Clintons are also accused of being part of a grand strategy for world government. It speaks of satanic plans by liberals and fellow-travelers to capture hundreds of thousands of children in order to torture and rape them and to drink their blood while engaging in satanic rituals. Hard to comprehend that people believe this rubbish which, of course, no branch of law enforcement has ever validated.

In the early months of Francis’ papacy, he expressed an opinion that divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive communion. A few years later he espoused civil marriage unions for stable homosexual couples. Of course, he did not advocate changing Christian marriage regulations as belonging to a man and a woman.

His opponents, led by Vigano and Burke, spoke about his suggestions as anathema to Catholic teaching. They prefer the unchanging church morality from before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s. In those times of hellfire and limbo churchgoers heard the clear traditional teaching, especially in areas tied to sexual morality.

Francis advises that we have to preach to a changing congregation and the church has to modernize or lose its relevance.

Gerry OShea blogs at 


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